Well not a box office failure (it recouped its budget domestically and made a fair share overseas), Valkyrie did result in being a bit of a disappointment. Bryan Singer’s first film since Superman Returns, Valkyrie had plenty riding on it to wash the taste that the Superman outing left in Singer’s fans mouths. Unfortunately the resulting film, while not horrible by any means, simply didn’t blow audiences away that we had hoped. Despite being based around historical events that were as intriguing as they were shocking, Valkyrie ultimately rang a bit hollow for a World War II epic and a little too historical to be a pure “action” film.
Tom Cruise gives one of the best performances of his career” (Jeffrey Lyons, NBC/Reel Talk) in this action-packed film from the director of The Usual Suspects and X-Men. Based on the incredible true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) and his ingenious assassination plot targeting Adolf Hitler, this engrossing thriller reenacts the daring operation to eliminate one of the most evil tyrants the world has ever known. Co-starring Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp and Eddie Izzard, Valkyrie delivers gripping suspense and pulse-pounding excitement from start to finish.
I’m a fan of Singer’s works and even enjoyed Superman Returns for what it was (i.e., a modern Donner flick), but I honestly had no interest in Valkyrie when word about it came about. A true story based on German’s attempts at killing Hitler was definitely intriguing…but Tom Cruise in the lead role? It just felt weird from the start and even from the trailers I questioned where the actual German was in the film, as it looked simply like a German story being told with Americans. And that’s exactly what it ended up being and for that reason it’s a difficult film to watch, because it feels very unsure about what it’s trying to be.
On one hand the film excels at the story it’s telling—it’s a highly interesting one, I’ll give it that. But its how it’s presented that just feels like a total disconnect. I understand how cheesy fake accents can sound at times, but when it’s a mixture of actual German being spoken and then lapsing back into English it…it just really feels like a disconnected film. Like a bad American adaptation of a German sitcom—there’s a reason it worked in Germany and not in America and that’s kind of what this film feels like. I still did enjoy the film at least, but there’s nothing in it that really felt “real;” by that I mean the film seemed to attempt to be a straight up action outing and then slow itself down to a leisurely pace as it builds up to kill Hitler.
That was another issue with the film—you knew the ending from the start, so the suspense of killing Hitler really wasn’t there. The film still managed to make you wish that history didn’t turn out the way it did as you did sympathize with Cruise’s character to an extent and, after all, it was Hitler they were trying to kill so there was definitely a genuine desire for the plan to succeed. In that regard the film succeeded in engrossing the audience and it certainly wasn’t a total bust—there’s plenty of exciting sequences in the film, there’s just the whole German/American disconnect that I couldn’t get past.
And really that’s where the film just stumbles. It never feels like it could be a 100% incredible historical documentary like something akin to…well, any other number of World War II era films. It didn’t even really look the part either—far too clean and modern looking (i.e., it doesn’t feature the washed out visuals that a WWII-era film boasts). That also may have been another attributing factor—nothing about this film fit the part of a historical documentary and as great as Singer’s directing was, it just didn’t feel like much more than his usual action/adventure expeditions.
Throughout all of these complaints I still did enjoy the movie. Cruise did give an admirable performance, as did everyone involved really (although Terrance Stamp felt rather wasted). Even the actor they brought in to play Hitler (David Bamber) was quite entertaining, as entertaining as one of the most hated and evil men to ever exist can be, at least. It’s an admirably assembled film, but it really just falls short of all of the goals it sets for itself, which is a shame as this could have been a really, really good historical film. Still Recommended because as far as popcorn flicks go, you could definitely do worse (and there isn’t much out there on rental shelves to pick anyway).
Valkyrie arrives in a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case (second disc is the digital copy) and includes inserts for the digital copy redemption, an MGM HD channel advertisement and a $5 coupon off of a selection of war Blu-ray’s (A Bridge Too Far, Battle of Britain, Flyboys, Patton, Rescue Dawn, The Sand Pebbles, The Longest Day and Windtalkers). Menus are simple and easy to navigate.
The video arrives in an AVC (@21mpbs) encoded 1.85:1 1080p video transfer that looks as fantastic as you’d expect from a modern production. Strong detail, fantastic colors and just an overall brilliant picture makes this a demo worthy film. When paired with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track you get a completely enveloping mixture, although the track is mostly front channel driven for about eighty-percent of the film, there are great little moments of city bombings that rattle the room. There’s also the opening sequence in Africa that made my front-firing subwoofer sound like it was coming through the floor it was sitting on—not sure what kind of mix they did there, but it genuinely surprised me with how aggressive it was.
Extras are…well, I’ll be honest. They’re really quite good. I haven’t seen such a solid outing of extras on a modern release in quite some time. Usually we have to wait for a double dip to get something like this, but Fox really loaded this title up from the start. The extras include:
Commentary by Tom Cruise, Director/Producer Bryan Singer, and Writer Christopher McQuarrie
Commentary by Writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander
o The Journey to Valkyrie (15:56, 1080i)
o The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide (9:08, 1080i)
o The African Front Sequence (7:01, 1080i)
o Taking to the Air (7:32, 1080i)
o Recreating Berlin (6:51, 1080i)
o 92nd Street Y: Reel Pieces with Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer (38:57, SD)
o The Valkyrie Legacy (1:54:15, 1080p)
Now the list isn’t massive, mind you, but the content included is nothing short of fantastic. The first commentary track with Cruise and Singer is the best of the two as we get a whole wealth of knowledge about the production of the film, what it was like to shoot it and how it was on the set with the other actors. I was genuinely surprised to hear from Cruise on the track as well, who offers up some solid insight into the film as well. The second track repeats some of McQuarrie’s comments from the first one, but is nonetheless a solid track from the writers of the film.
As far as the other featurettes go they’re your standard run-of-the-mill pieces that show off various areas of production, but the 92nd Street piece is actually quite interesting as it once again pairs Cruise and Singer up to dish about the film. But the crown jewel of the extras, commentaries notwithstanding, is “The Valkyrie Legacy.” This is quite obviously a tie-in production done to air on the likes of the History Channel, but there has certainly been worse promotional pieces, as the depths they go to explore the history is really fantastic.
Overall this is a great release from Fox, both in technical specifications and in the extras department. Quite honestly I questioned if I’d ever watch this release again, but between the documentary, the film, and the commentaries, this is really a package that comes Highly Recommended.
Valkyrie is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.